Safety Week 2011: Equipment Essential for Firefighter Safety

Having the correct gear and equipment are essential for firefighters to do their jobs and return home safely.

Safety Week Coverage

While progress is being made, some departments still can't equip their personnel with the necessary tools, according to the NFPA's Third Needs Assessment of the U.S. Fire Service.

The study -- released last week -- compares the recent results with those of assessments conducted in 2001 and 2005.

"Fire service needs are extensive across the board, and in nearly every area of need, the smaller the community protected, the greater the need," they wrote.

Researchers pointed out that while many departments are still lacking proper tools, "needs have declined to a considerable degree in a number of areas, particularly personal protective and firefighting equipment, two types of resource that received the largest shares of funding from the Assistance to Firefighters grants (AFG)."

Half of all fire departments do not have enough portable radios to equip all responders on a shift, and 59 percent of those surveyed do not have radios that are water resistant.

"Between the first and third Needs Assessment Surveys, one-fourth of all departments switched from not having radios for all shift responders to having enough radios for all shift responders. That is roughly 7,000 fire departments that now have all the radios they need. For the largest communities, the improvement has been even more dramatic, with at least 40 percent of departments in each population group of 50,000 or more switching from need to no-need," the study read.

The authors speculated the reason for the change may be due to federal grants to fire departments to purchase additional radios.

The survey also determined that 52 percent of departments cannot equip all firefighters on the shift with their own SCBA.

This shows improvement over 2001 at 70 percent, and 2005 when 60 percent were in the same situation.

Also, 55 percent said their SCBAs were 10 years old.

Another area discussed in the report that was funded by a DHS/FEMA grant showed two out of five cannot provide every firefighter with their own personal alert safety system (PASS) device.

"Progress has occurred across the board. This shift may in part reflect the influence of the equipment portions of the U.S. Fire Administration grants. For grants during 2001 to 2004, grants to purchase firefighting or personal protective equipment accounted for an estimated 71 percent of total grants and 64 percent of total dollars granted for all grant recipient departments," according to the report.

Other statistics show that departments are making headway in providing responders with their own personal protective clothing. The latest results show nine percent can't outfit their crews, compared to 15 percent in 2001 and 11 percent in 2005.

Also, a few more departments say they now have more clothing in reserve than before.

After the analysis, researchers concluded: "In every identifiable category of personal protective equipment, hundreds, even thousands, of departments have moved from a condition of need to a condition of no need, under the criteria used here. Even so, thousands more departments remain in need. Needs related to a sufficiency of equipment have seen the greatest reductions, while needs related to advanced capabilities of equipment have seen smaller but still noteworthy reductions."